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Laura Deal

I completely agree with you about the singular use of "they", but I think you (or rather Cecil Adams) may be wrong about the history of "you".

My understanding is that ""ye" was the plural form, "you" the formal singular, and "thou" the informal singular.

This seems to be supported by the usage of old English that I'm familiar with. For example: "Hear Ye, Hear Ye" would mean "Listen Y'all" and there are scenes in Shakespeare where the social dynamic shifts as one character stops addressing another character as "you" and begins calling them "thou".

This doesn't alter the point you are making one bit. I just had to point it out anyway. Also, I'd like to say that I think it would be great to bring back "ye" or at least bring "y'all" into greater usage north of the Mason-Dixon line. I like being able to be clear about whether I'm addressing a group or just an individual.

Geekily thine,

Greta Christina

You know, I couldn't remember what exact shifts the second person pronouns had taken over the centuries, so I looked them up on Wikipedia, and that's where I got my info about "you," "ye," "thou," and "thee." The entries are at:


And now that I look at the entries more closely: According to the Wikifolk, "ye/you" was plural or formal singular (nominative and objective cases), and "thou/thee" was singular informal (ditto). But it is Wikipedia we're talking about here, so it could be wrong.

And I agree with you about "y'all." It's actually my one real argument against the singular "they": if we start using "they" as both singular and plural, we'll have the same occasional confusion we do now with the singular and plural "you." (Will we start having to say "th'all" when we mean "they" in the plural?) I personally think the benefit of the gender-neutral pronoun far outweighs that disadvantage, but it is something to think about.

Laura Deal

I think that there will be fewer problems with "they" being used for both singular and plural than there are with "you" being used that way.
With "they" the writer will be discussing other people and therefore either will have named them previously or will be writing about an abstract person. So the reader will either have a previous clue, or the singular/plural question won't really matter. With "you" the writer is much less likely to have named the person or people being addressed and it could be an abstact group or it could be a message for one particular person. This can make a big difference. 2nd person prounouns are just more personal than 3rd person prounouns and therefore clarity seems more vital.

Jon Berger

The only problem that occurs to me is that the singular use of "they" has been common for quite a long time, but in a way that suggests "I wish to conceal the sex of the person I'm talking about," rather than "the sex of the person I'm talking about is irrelevant to this discussion." As in "Oh, I'm just going to the dance with, umm, a friend, and they're a really good driver and they don't drink or anything." I'm sure this will become less true as the use of "they" in a purely gender-neutral sense becomes more common -- and it is -- but right now, that's my first thought when I hear "they" used in the singular: "hmm, what is this speaker trying to hide?"


I particularly liked the illustrations you chose.


I agree with everything you said, although I'm still confused about the old use of "you". I was under the impression that "ye" was plural, "thou" either plural also or singular formal, as in "Thou Shalt Not Kill" and "you" singular.

The other reason I use singular they is because of transgendered people. If they're (see?) in transition it makes use of "they" makes it possible to honor that or even protect them.

Laura Deal

Thou was singular informal : used with those one was familiar with or those below one in station, much like the word tu in spanish. Thee was the form of thou used as a direct object.

You was singular formal: used with strangers or those above one in station, like the spanish usted.

Everyone addressed and was adressed by God as thou, Queen Elizabeth reportedly addressed everyone but her horse as thou.

Ye was the plural (I believe both both formal and informal).

This is what I learned in Elizabethan 101 back in the 80s when you had to take classes to be a street actor at Renn Faire. There may be different rules for different eras.

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